Sprinters are generally considered to be highly-strung, adrenaline-fuelled athletes yet Marcel Kittel appeared to be as calm and controlled as his famous blonde quiff of hair on the eve of the Dubai Tour.
The German rider will make his season debut in the four-day event in the Middle East and his racing debut with Etixx-QuickStep, all after a difficult 2015 season hit by illness that lead to his divorce from Giant-Alpecin. It will be fascinating to see him go up against Mark Cavendish – who he replaced at Etixx-QuickStep, and if he has returned to the form that saw him win four stages in the 2013 and 2014 Tour de France and three stages in the inaugural Dubai Tour in 2014.
“I don’t personally feel that we have to perform here. It’s important that we stay calm, see how good we do. If it works immediately, it’ll be great. If it doesn’t, we will sit down and talk about it. That’s the process we are going through at the moment,” Kittel told Cyclingnews stoically.
The expected showdown in the sprints between Kittel and Mark Cavendish is the prizefight of this year’s Dubai Tour. The two were seated next to each in the pre-race press conference and respect each other’s sprinting ability and palmares. However both want to win the first sprint off in Fujairah on Wednesday, at the Jumeirah Atlantis on the exposed seafront on Thursday and on the final stage in downtown Dubai on Saturday.
“I think the sprints won’t only be about Mark and myself,” Kittel suggested, opening up the prognostic. “We’ve seen that people like Elia
Viviani, Andrea Guardini and Giacomo Nizzolo are here too, so there are definitely more than two sprinters going for the wins. It’s a good race for the sprinters.”
The Etixx-QuickStep team has backed Kittel for the Dubai Tour, selecting Tony Martin, Fabio Sabatini, Matteo Trentin, Nikolas Maes and IIjo Keisse to form a powerful and protective lead out train.
“We certainly didn’t bring our best climbers, that’s for sure,” joked Kittel to Cyclingnews. “It’s a great team for me and I’m really confident
we can go for good results.”
With such confidence, Kittel is not worried about making his season debut in Dubai and being immediately under the spotlight.
“For me personally, the most important thing before a race is that I feel good,” he argued. “I feel good now and so it doesn’t make a huge difference if I’ve raced earlier or not. We’ll soon see how my form is.”